Bowling Bankruptcy

Let’s do some business news today from The Wall Street Journal:

AMF Bowling Worldwide Inc., the world’s largest operator of bowling alleys, filed for bankruptcy-court protection Tuesday after being squeezed by a cash crunch and failing to find a buyer for its business.

[..] Tom Clark, the commissioner of the Professional Bowlers Association, said that even as the number of people bowling at least once a year is at a high of about 70 million, only about two million are competing regularly in leagues.

This is nothing new. A whole book was written about this about a decade ago and what it says about our culture. The bowling world hasn’t been able to shift culturally fast enough to keep up with it. The cost is too high, leagues are too much commitment, and organizing a regular event like league bowling in a world where all of our kids are so ridiculously scheduled to the hilt is almost impossible.

I know some houses have started shorter seasons, and I think that’s a good idea. I think short leagues — 10 weeks, max — would be an interesting way to go.

Cut back on the prizes at the end of the league, too. Keep costs low. In the last league I bowled in, we paid way too much every week and then got a big check at the end of the year for our prize, even when the team was in the basement. The members of the league voted to keep the pay out fairly even-handed. First place still took a lot more, but it spread out fairly evenly after that. The league, as competitive as it could be, was still a very social one, with lots of people who had bowled together for a very long time. Then the house closed and everyone went their different ways. Sad. I miss those guys.

In any case, here’s the interesting stat from the article:

AMF, which sold off its bowling alleys overseas in a previous restructuring, operates 262 bowling centers in the U.S. Small chains and mom-and-pop operators now dominate the industry, which includes more than 5,000 bowling alleys.

In a world in which mom and pop pharmacies were choked off by CVS, Walgreens, etc., everyone is threatened by Walmart, and independent book stores are all but dead in the wake of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the bowling world is backwards. The 300 pound gorilla in the industry holds little sway. Go figure.

That said, apart from the one Lucky Strikes chain mentioned in the article, I can’t think of a single bowling center that’s opened in the last two decades. All I’ve seen are the ones that have closed, one by one by one. Butler, Wyckoff, and Ramsey are the first three that come to mind. Rumor has it even that the lanes down the road from me where I live now are in trouble. (The Pro shop has been empty for years.)

As someone who loves bowling, it’s sad to watch. Of course, I’m also part of the problem. I haven’t bowled in a league for five years now. But I enjoy throwing stones, anyway. . .